Do’s and Don’ts of College Visits

By Penny Deck, M.Ed., CEP
Director of Counseling & College Services

Spring is here! That means it’s prime time for visiting colleges. Whether you’re just beginning your college search or have narrowed down your top picks, careful research will help you with your college selection process. The best way to size up an institution and determine fit is by visiting the campus. Before you hit the road, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind!




DO plan your visit in advance. Showing up cold makes it more difficult for the visit to meet your needs and ensure you see what you want to see. Since tours try to cover a lot of ground, they don’t often delve deep into specific departments or interests. By calling in advance, you might be able to request add-ons like a meeting with a faculty member or a special tour of a particular department.

DO allow adequate travel time, factoring in traffic, getting lost, and parking.

DO visit colleges when the students are there. You are more likely to get the true campus vibe and feel for the social and academic scene when the college is in full swing.

DO sit in on a class, if time allows. Some schools have a master list of classes that you can pick from. You can arrange this in advance through the admissions department.

DO attend a school-related event, such as an athletic event, a theater production or a concert. This is another way to get a feel for the social scene at the college.

DO talk to students on campus other than the tour guide. Getting more candid perspectives is always a good thing!

DO ask questions that you want answers to; this is not a time to be shy! You’ll be living at your college for the next four years, you should know everything you need to know before you commit.

DO wear comfortable clothing and shoes but be presentable. You want to make a good impression. And be prepared for any kind of weather.


DON’T try to visit too many schools in one day. Usually two in one day is the most you can visit and still remember what you heard, saw, and experienced.

DON’T let your parent(s) do all the talking. They should be supportive bystanders but this is YOUR visit.

DON’T hesitate to go beyond the standard tour if you want to see particular things and to gather your own impressions.

DON’T forget to take notes and journal your thoughts and impressions.

DON’T forget to take lots of pictures. When you arrive at a college, your first picture should be of something with the name of the school on it, e.g., a sign, a t-shirt, a folder, etc., so that you will know which college is represented in the pictures.

Above and Beyond: Math Peer Tutors

The purpose of Math Peer Tutors is for students to support other students in an academic way. It also provides students with teaching opportunities and allows them to share their enthusiasm for mathematics. Math Peer Tutors was started in 2016 by Brenda Bullock Brickley ’69 in the math department.

Anyone can sign up for a tutor or drop in during open office hours. So far in the 2018-19 school year, 38 students have received tutoring from 11 peer tutors.

In order to be a tutor, students must be in an upper level math class, have high grades in her math classes, and complete an application. Ms. Brickley makes final decisions on all tutors.

When they meet:
Tutors currently hold open office hours on Wednesdays, from 7:50 a.m. – 8:20 a.m., however they are also available by appointment during study halls, open lunch, and after school. One tutor even met her student on the weekend!

Why it matters:
“On my first day, I was shown to a peer tutor, and I ended up staying with her the entire year. She was so flexible to work with, and it was really nice too because I could send her math problems through text/email and she would answer them at nights and on the weekends.

She really wanted me to succeed! At the beginning of the year, I was making some C’s and the occasional D. After spending a year with my tutor, I was making B’s and the occasional A! She was so helpful, and I still ask her sometimes for help on math. I absolutely loved having a peer tutor.” – Rachel Bruce

“Math peer tutoring gives me the opportunity to interact with underclassmen. It is such an incredible feeling when the student finally understands a concept that they have been working on, and I love being able to facilitate this.” – Eve Maddock

Ms. Brickley can also attest that students who come to tutoring do better in class. “My students’ grades have definitely improved after coming to tutoring,” said Ms. Brickley. “And those that have received help have told me that it is a wonderful experience, and at the very least has helped with their confidence. I see this is really true as they continue to see their tutors without much pushing from their math teachers.”

In 2018, Ms. Brickley received the Hearts at Work award for the Math Peer Tutors. Hearts at Work is an award given out every year to a faculty/staff member who has goes above and beyond the call of duty. The recipient needs to have identified a need in the school community, and designed and implemented a thoughtful solution that positively affects a majority of students and/or faculty.

“The Math Peer Tutors program is great!” said Head of School Renata Rafferty. “It multiplies the number of students who can get one-on-one help when faculty members are assisting others. Sometimes, all it takes for a student to understand or apply a math concept is hearing it explained in another way. And in working through problems or lessons with students asking for help, the girls doing the tutoring deepen their own knowledge and understanding of the subject.”

Faculty Profile: Dr. Chad Suhr

When Dr. Chad Suhr joined the Saint Gertrude community in 2016, he was moderately new to teaching. He had recently completed a Ph.D. in physics, which included a stint at the Large-Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator, in Cern, Geneva. Along the way, he also earned a master’s degree in philosophy. A teaching assignment at another independent school was all it took for Dr. Suhr to realize that he loved teaching high school, and within months of joining SGHS, Dr. Suhr quickly endeared himself to students through his wacky humor, intriguing experiments, and innovative teaching methods. We sat down with Dr. Suhr to find out why he likes teaching at an all-girls school, how he brings philosophy into the classroom, and why certain physics assignments are his favorite.

After completing your Ph.D., what made you decide to teach high school?

After I finished grad school, I knew that I didn’t want to stay in research. For me, research had meant sitting in an office being angry with a computer. I really like interacting with people, so I looked into jobs in education—college and high school. In 2014, I was hired to help design and teach a project-based, interdisciplinary curriculum at an independent high school in Charlottesville. I worked on that for two years—one year was spent designing the curriculum, and the other, teaching the pilot year. Those two years were the coolest master’s in education that you could get; it was like a crash tour. The program did not go beyond the pilot year, but I really had a lot of fun and realized that I enjoyed teaching high school.

At a high school, there is an emphasis on relationships with students. I know the kids I teach. I’ve developed a special relationship with them. I can joke with them. And a lot of schools have programs that are really neat. They are trying to do interesting things. There is thought about creative ways to present material.

What is it like to teach at an all-girls school?

This is my first experience with it. Before this, I taught at a coed school. Boys and girls are very different animals. At this age, girls typically have more executive function than boys do, so they are able to make plans and execute them better. I think it’s that functioning that helps with inventiveness. Yes, girls can be a bit boy crazy, but there aren’t boys in the classroom to be crazy about so they don’t have to think about what the boys are thinking and doing. The girls can just be present in the classroom. I’m glad an all-girls education is an option for families.

At SGHS we teach physics freshman year. Many students also take a more advanced physics course their senior year. Why do we teach physics first? How does this benefit our girls?

Physics is really the fundamental science, and understanding principles in physics—force, energy, motion, etc.—are useful in subsequent courses. In the standard biology-chemistry-physics progression, the first time you use much math is in chemistry and the concepts are often a bit more abstract. Not only are the concepts there less familiar, but you can’t always see them in action. Also the hazards of working with chemicals make safety paramount. Physics

concepts can be explored with things like springs, rubber bands, toy cars, and the like, so we can play around a bit more. Also, by teaching physics first, we ensure that everyone takes physics. It’s no longer a junior elective. Everyone is exposed to this fundamental science.

What is your favorite physics assignment?

Senior projects in Physics II are fun. These are quarter-long projects where students construct a product or demonstration and then discuss the physics of what they have built in a group presentation. Last year students built a Rubens’ tube—a tube that is filled with gas and attached to a speaker. The gas is lit on fire, and sound waves cause the flames to vary in height. A Rubens’ tube allows students to see the wave structure of sound. (You can find videos of a Rubens’ tube online.) Of course it’s fire, so it’s cool. This year students are talking about building a hovercraft! More than the actual project, the students have to create their own plan for building and learning, everything from figuring out what they need, what safety precautions they have to take, and what they must understand in order to be an expert on their particular project. This is what most things in real life are like. You have to figure out what you need to do and how to do it. You have to understand enough to know where your knowledge ends and whether that is sufficient for your purpose. It is easy to find information on the Internet and recite it, but much more difficult to explain it in your own words or use it to create something.

How do you bring philosophy into the classroom?

I have always enjoyed philosophy. Philosophy allows a way of thinking about science that is not just about calculation. Science is a certain type of knowledge and it’s important to understand how science relates to other types of knowledge. Philosophy does that. Philosophy is concerned with everything and how different fields fit together. It helps place science alongside other types of knowledge in a cohesive whole, including fields like ethics and religion. Many students share the default assumption of our culture that science and religion are inherently opposed to one another. I want them to see that this is not necessarily the case, that there are ways of integrating these ways of thinking that do justice to both science and religion, and present a rich picture of the world.

Saint Gertrude’s Four-Legged Friends

By Savannah Wilson, Archival Intern

Saint Gertrude’s official mascot may be a Gator, but the school also has hosted several unofficial mascots throughout the years. Here are the stories of some of the most famous four-legged companions to have graced the school with their presence.

Tim, The Original

What we know of Tim, possibly the first dog to have been a member of Saint Gertrude High School, comes from a history of the school’s first five years written by the first principal, Sister Gertrude Head. Much of Sister Gertrude’s history focused on the school’s progress and major events such as graduation, but she dedicated a full eight sentences to talking about Tim when she noted the “cloud of sadness” that had come over the school when he had died in February 1927. Sister Gertrude’s adoration for Tim is clear as she remembers the bull dog who seemed to fill all roles, serving as “both member of faculty and student body” (a position that included “attending all classes”), protector of the home, and “the Czar of Stuart Ave.,” who evoked terror in other dogs, cats, and, of course, Richmond’s delivery men. Although Tim, or Timmie, may have been fierce to outsiders, he seems to have felt at home at Saint Gertrude. “He possessed the freedom of the house and was its vigorous protector,” Sister Gertrude wrote. “He knew and loved each of the school children and courted their affection.” Even in death, Tim remained in the place he loved; he was buried, Sister Gertrude says, under an umbrella tree on the property’s lower lawn.

Queenie, The Celebrity

It seems that whoever named Queenie, a German Shepherd who lived at the convent in the 1950s and 1960s, knew she was destined for greatness. True to her royal name, Queenie became known not only to the SGHS student body, but also to people across Richmond and around the country. After Queenie suffered a bad cut on her paw on one of her journeys, she walked herself to a human hospital, the Retreat for the Sick, according to a 1963 obituary (yes, there was an obit printed for the pup!). She wandered the hallways until somebody found her, and a veterinarian later stitched her cut. The Richmond News Leader ran an article about Queenie’s self-admittance to the hospital, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not soon picked up and publicized the story, giving Queenie widespread fame. Queenie wrote her own news stories, too. The school newspaper, The Green Shield, ran a column called “Queenie Was Here” (later changed to “Queenie Is Here”), in which she commented on school happenings. Despite her regal nature, though, Queenie still proved loving and loyal both to neighborhood children and the girls of Saint Gertrude. As her obituary states: “Dogs will come and dogs will go! But it is hard to think of Saint Gertrude’s without ‘Queenie,’ a faithful and well-loved friend.”

Tipper, The Advice Giver

Tipper the dog authored the advice column “Tips from Tipper” that ran in The Green Shield in the late 1960s and mid-1970s, and perhaps between these two periods as well. In the late 1960s, “Tips from Tipper” included musings on Tipper’s life as a dog – “while the girls have been busy studying, I have been out with my friends enjoying these beautiful spring days” –, commentary on school happenings – “The annual staff can finally breathe a sigh of relief” –, and gossip – “Last week I almost had my tail run over by a hot-rod Sophomore in a white station wagon.”

The column also included some actual tips from Tipper in the form of admonishments to misbehaving students and an advice column portion. Tipper told one letter-writer, who said her boyfriend treated her like a dog, that “Really a dog’s life isn’t really so bad; but if you have tried everything then I advise you to join a convent – there you won’t have any boyfriend problems.” In the mid-1970s, “Tips from Tipper” continued to talk about campus life but focused more on Tipper’s personal life, mentioning stories he had heard about his great-great grandfather as a puppy, his time as a member of Bone Scouts, and his girlfriend, Spot.

Beyond the column, we know Saint Gertrude has been the home of three Tippers, each owned by Sister Damien, who had a deep love for dogs and who also had owned Queenie, according to Saint Gertrude’s January 1990 newsletter. At the time the newsletter was written, Tipper III lived at the convent in Bristow, and Sister Damien visited him when she went there. A number of pictures of at least one of the Tippers, including some particularly heartwarming ones with Sister Damien and the dog together, are among the school’s old photographs.

And for all cat lovers, Thomas

In case felines are more your forte, we’ll end with Thomas the orange “cafeteria cat,” who was the subject of a December 1986 article in The Green Shield. Thomas was sneaky, managing to slip past Sister Charlotte’s watchful eye into the cafeteria on numerous occasions and entering by walking through the school’s front doors and past the office when the cafeteria doors were closed. Once Thomas entered the lunchroom, he may have stolen students’ lunches, according to the article. Despite the cat’s criminal nature, he, like the dogs of Saint Gertrude, cared for the students. “Thomas is friendly with all the students at Saint Gertrude,” the article stated. “He enjoys visiting the sophomores in the gym during their class meetings as well as waiting for the seniors to get out of school at the senior hall doors.”

Today, our students enjoy the company of a bunny and a hive of bees, both located in Liz Czaja’s biology classroom, but nothing like the Tippers of yore. If you are an alumna, do you remember any of the Saint Gertrude pets? Share your stories on our Facebook page.

Saint Gertrude High School is currently organizing its archives in preparation for its centennial anniversary in 2022. This blog post came out of archival research that took place in the summer of 2018. We’ll share more archival blog posts throughout the year.

Don’t Count Yourself Out: A Makerspace Experience

By Lauren Horan ’20. 

Let me start off this post by saying, I am not a handy person. A bit ironic, considering my mom designs and builds homes and is one of the most innovative people I know. Instead, I’m one of those people who believes they can accomplish something without instructions, refuses help, and then thirty minutes later realizes what a mistake they have made. So imagine how mind blowing it is, walking into a makerspace and seeing these ingenious college students, adults, and even a 12-year-old boy operating high tech machinery as if it was second nature.

But, you ask, what exactly is a makerspace? According to, it “is a collaborative work space inside a school, library, or separate public/private facility for making, learning, exploring, and sharing.” Before this opportunity, I along with most others, had no idea what it was. We were only introduced to this concept after a few of my teachers became involved in the makerspace, Build, RVA, in Scott’s Addition last year. After sharing their experiences and some of their incredible final projects, they decided to extend this opportunity to students, eagerly wanting to see where our creative minds would take us. Students had the ability to fill out an application, in hopes to be one out of the seven students chosen for the program.

Walking into Build, RVA for the first time, the seven of us girls were a bit baffled. Baffled at the tools around us that we didn’t even know existed, baffled at the commitment of the many people working late into the evening on a project, and baffled at the many possibilities presented before us. You want to learn how to weld? Done. Operate a laser machine? Easy. Learn CNC software and how to operate the CNC router? Not a problem. With the help of volunteers, the teachers, and the real troopers, Seth, Ryan, and Oliver, almost anything was possible. However, the real question that clouded up our minds the first couple days was, how in the world were we going to narrow down what we wanted to create? After all, options were practically limitless.

With this question floating among the few brain cells we had left after exams, most of us spent days scrolling through Pinterest, trying to narrow down our final project. Yet, inspiration wasn’t only found within the computer screen. Inspiration was found throughout the workshop, when we saw someone spending hours on a layered sign for a new Carytown restaurant, an intricate relief model of Buddha, and even more impressive, the Hyperloop that VCU has entered into Elon Musk’s competition (which is so, so cool). Eventually, we all decided on our final projects. I chose to create an aluminum medallion to hand over my bed.

Now that I’ve completed my project, I’ve realized something very important. So what if I’m not a handy person? Wait, let me rephrase that. How many opportunities have I had to be a handy person? My answer? They can all be counted on one hand. I’ve come to realize that I have to stop categorizing myself into what I can and cannot do.

At the beginning of this summer, I doubted myself. I wondered how it was possible for me to build these amazing creations like everyone else around me. Now, it brings a smile to my face seeing the reactions of new members when they see a 4’11 junior in high school operating a machine three times the size of her, as if I have been doing it forever. The real message I’m trying to get across is, you can’t count yourself out if you’ve never been given the opportunity.

Lauren Horan ’20 is a junior at Saint Gertrude High School. When not playing lacrosse, basketball or dancing, she spends her time representing her class in the Student Cooperative Association (SCA), cheering on SGHS’s athletics teams as a member of spirit club and showing off the school as a student ambassador. Whenever there’s a free moment, she loves spending time with her family, friends and playing with her dog.



The Best Advice for Incoming Freshmen

Starting a new school—no matter the grade—can be tough. There are new teachers to meet, a new schedule to learn, and new friends to make. We reached out to some of our current sophomores about what advice they had for our newest students, our freshmen. Here’s what they had to say.

Step out of your comfort zone.
“My advice to the incoming freshman is to step out of your comfort zone. Its natural and okay to flock to the girls you knew from middle school, or even stand in the corner when you don’t know anyone yet. Make an effort to talk to someone new every day. It might seem difficult and intimidating, but no matter how confident a person appears, I can guarantee they’re just as nervous as you are. It takes a lot of trial and error to find people you click with, but that’s what high school is all about; new experiences! So embrace the awkwardness, be that person who makes the first move, and stay positive, because at the end of the day you all have one thing in common: you’re a Gertie girl now!” – Clara Drendel ’21

Be yourself.

“The advice I would give to an incoming freshman is to be yourself. It may sound easy to do, but sometimes it’s easier to act like someone you aren’t. You may want to fit in or to follow the crowd but I guarantee you will be happiest acting like yourself instead of someone else. Your differences are what makes you you and if you try to act like everyone else you can end up losing yourself.” – Ida Adeso ’21


No expectations.
“Don’t come into high school with expectations of what it should be. High school is an experience that will be different for everyone, so do it your way. You’re going to feel lost sometimes and you’re going to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but here’s a little secret: none of us know what we’re doing. We’re all just trying to figure it out. And when you do need some guidance, don’t hesitate to ask a girl older than you. It may seem scary, but I wouldn’t have gotten through the first few weeks of school without the support of upperclassmen.” – Emilia Iannini ’21 (right)

Say yes.
“Whether its reading aloud in class, answering a question, or volunteering, if you say yes to something small you realize that the community and environment at SGHS is there to support you. By simply saying yes, you learn that nobody is going to think you’re weird or is going to laugh at you for being who you are. Saying yes as a freshman allows you to gain the confidence needed to navigate a place and find your role within it.” – Natalie Wolpert ’21


It’s OK not knowing everyone.
“When I walked into ASH (Advisory Study Hall) for the first time I didn’t know anyone. I really wanted to be in the ASH with all my friends. As the year went on, I became really close to those girls. I am so glad I was put in the ASH I was put in because I gained more friendships with people, some that I didn’t think I would be so close to.” – Izzy Friend ’21 (right)